Maryland Law Generally Treats Prenuptial Agreement as Contract

The marriage of two people is a joyous event. A couple that decides to marry is expressing hope for their future lives together. Despite their love and devotion for each other, spouses sometimes enter into a “prenuptial” or “ante-nuptial” agreement prior to their wedding day. Such agreements may include various terms, depending on the circumstances of the parties, but they typically set forth the distribution of certain assets in the event of a divorce. Entering into a prenuptial agreement may be considered a prudent course of action, especially if one party has a significant amount of wealth at the time of the marriage. To determine whether a prenuptial agreement is right for your circumstances, you are encouraged to consult with a Maryland family law lawyer as soon as possible.

Essentially, a prenuptial agreement is a contract. And while there are no specific Maryland laws that govern prenuptial agreements, the formation and enforceability of such a document is subject to general principles of contract law. For instance, the parties must mutually agree to the terms of the agreement, which should be in writing. If a couple with a prenuptial agreement seeks to divorce, courts are often called upon to determine the validity of the document. In so doing, courts will look at whether:  1) the agreement was fair and equitable; 2) the parties each gave a full, complete, and truthful disclosure of their assets prior to document signing; 3) each party entered into the agreement freely, voluntarily, and knowingly; and 4) each party sought independent legal advice prior to signing the agreement.

Each of these elements gives the court insight into the circumstances surrounding the contract formation and whether one party was unduly coerced or defrauded into signing the agreement. In most situations, parties are encouraged to seek their own respective attorneys in order to lend credibility to the terms contained therein. It is important to understand the items that may be covered in a prenuptial agreement. Among other things, the contract may identify:  1) rights to property acquired before or during the marriage; 2) any inheritance rights, including special provisions for children by a previous marriage, or for any children born during the impending marriage; and 3) alimony issues or monetary awards.

Interestingly enough, according to an article on prenuptial agreements, there is a uniform law known as the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreement Act, which governs the enforceability of prenuptial agreements. Although it has not been widely adopted (and Maryland has not signed it into law), it recognizes that such contracts should be generally enforceable. Under this Uniform Law, however, courts may exercise special scrutiny when reviewing prenuptial agreements because the parties are typically not negotiating at arm’s length.

Entering into a “prenup” can be somewhat awkward and not the way most people choose to start a life together. But if the agreement is something that you want or need to have prior to marriage, it is extremely important that the terms are fair and protect your legal and financial rights, should you ultimately seek a divorce. The best way to ensure that you are entering into a suitable and enforceable prenuptial agreement is to consult with your own Maryland family law attorney. Anthony A. Fatemi is a seasoned Maryland family law attorney with a great deal of experience representing parties in all aspects of divorce. Mr. Fatemi can be reached at (888) 519-2801 or (301) 519-2801.

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